Overall, living in France is wonderful. It's a great experience and I feel incredibly fortunate for having a job that let's me live here. But like all good things (for example, gin & tonics, democracy, and Thanksgiving) there is a price to pay -- to wit: hangovers, Congress, and five extra pounds that go right to your waist. One of my minor quibbles is with my household appliances.
The three appliances that we use most often in our French home are the washing machine, the dryer, and the dishwasher. The washer and dryer are brand new and very sophisticated (which is another way of saying that they have a lot of settings that we never use). The washer is a front loading model -- which are supposed to be more desirable than the old-fashioned top loading ones. Apparently they use less energy and water, can wash more clothes at one time, and spin dry the clothes better. We never had a front loader before so we were pretty excited to get one.
The problem with our French washing machine is that the wash cycle is two hours long. Ok, I'm exaggerating. The wash cycle is only 1 hour and 56 minutes long. (The precise time of each wash cycle is displayed on a digital readout.) Well, that's for the 'cotton' and the 'synthetics' cycles. The other cycles might be even longer. I don't know because in my limited experience 'cotton' and 'synthetics' pretty much cover anything I'm going to throw into the wash. I'm just a guy so I'm not totally up on the finer details of laundry, but I believe that throwing your wife's silk or wool clothing into the washing machine are grounds for divorce in all 50 states. Even the otherwise brilliant defense, "Hey, look! I was helping with the household chores!" doesn't exempt you.
Our dryer and the dish washer also have two hour cycles. I'm not sure if they really need two hour cycles or if they do it to show solidarity for the washer. (Showing solidarity for your fellow workers is a very French thing. If the subway workers strike, the bus drivers go on strike, too. And of course, if the bus drivers are on strike, the cabbies will go on strike, and so on. One guy calling in sick with a bad back could easily lead to a chain reaction that could paralyze the French economy. But I digress...)
At first we consoled ourselves with the notion that while washing up may take twice as long in France as it did in the US, we could assure ourselves that we were getting our laundry and china clean down to a molecular level. Sadly, this doesn't seem to be the case. If anything, the laundry and dishes are coming out less clean than with our low tech, high throughput, brute-force-and-ignorance American appliances.
And I'm not sure how high tech our French appliances are anyway. In the US, you throw the laundry in the washer, turn it on, and away it goes. The agitator agitates, the water fills and empties, and the drum spins it dry. Here in France all sorts of things happen. To begin with, there are two compartments for soap, as in 'Prewash' and 'Wash' or perhaps 'Wash -- Part 1' and 'Wash -- The Sequel'. ('The Return of the Wash'?, 'Son of Wash'?, 'The Wash Strikes Back'?)
Then there's the odd wash cycle itself. When we first got the washing machine, I watched it run for a few minutes: the drum churns a bit and then it stops for a few moments. Suddenly, it'll start back up again.
What's going on? Is the washing machine faking the dirt out? Is it trying to sneak up on it? Perhaps lull the dirt into a false sense of security? No wonder it takes two hours to wash things. In the US, the dirt is unsophisticated. You expose it to some hot water, soap, and some scrubbing and it's gone. Here in France, the appliances are putting 'the moves' on the dirt.
And that takes time. One hour and 56 minutes to be precise.